Portland is a city where you can carry an umbrella without fear of being judged by those around you. At least, that’s the way Portland used to be known. In an Oct. 1991 article in the Bend Bulletin read “Portland – where a man with an umbrella is still a man.” The writer claimed Portland as the only city in Oregon where there’s no stigma attached to umbrella carrying. “Everybody carries umbrellas,” the author writes, “men and women, young and old, rich and poor.” The article paints a picture of a city where Portlanders “carry their umbrellas openly and proudly” and where the practical use of umbrellas is collectively acknowledged and recognized.
To someone living in Portland in 2015, the above words might sound like satire. Today this picture of Portland could not be further from the truth. Carrying an umbrella—even in the pouring rain—will often earn the carrier the label of “weak,” or “outsider.” Instead of carrying umbrellas, many Portlanders carry a huge stigma when it comes to umbrella use.
“I don’t even own an umbrella, so no, I don’t use one,” says University of Portland student, Scarlett Broere. “I honestly don’t really own a real rain jacket either. People who use umbrellas – if it’s really raining, like torrentially raining – then yes, fine, you can use an umbrella. But, if it’s just sprinkling then just get over it. Just put a jacket on. You’re fine. You’re not going to get wet.”
UP nursing student Myla Simons agrees with Broere. “Umbrellas are stupid. Why would you carry one? With raincoats, you’re really covered and the coat is close to your body. An umbrella is just like a big hat that doesn’t even protect you from the rain when it’s windy.”
However, some UP students disagree with these statements. Erica Gallenberger is from Southern California and holds a very different opinion. “I carried an umbrella in California and I own an umbrella up here. I just never use it. I don’t use it because I feel like I would be ostracized by everyone in Oregon. I get enough crap for being a Californian and being afraid of cold weather. When I lived in California I used my rain jacket at school and I was one of the only people at my school who actually wore a rain jacket. Everyone either stood out in the rain in their sweatshirts or they had umbrellas.”
While Simons is from Northern California, she understands the “climate shock” a person who’s not used to rain can experience when they first move to Portland. “I’m from California and I thought I knew what rain was,” Simons says. “Then, I moved to Oregon. You can use an umbrella if you’re in California rain and it’s only kind of sprinkling, but if you move to Oregon there’s Oregon rain and you need a raincoat.”
So, what changed between 1991 and now? Why are so many UP students, Portlanders, and people from the Pacific North West so anti-umbrella? Gallenberger blames the growing presence of different outdoor equipment retailers in Portland. “I’m going to be real,” she says. “I think with the whole granola movement everybody now has their backpacking gear and whatnot. My rain jacket is for backpacking. People gravitate toward REI, North Face, you know… Portland has become a very North Face, backpack-y place.” Whatever the reason, Portlanders seem to be in agreement that umbrellas are not part of what it means to be “from Portland.” Perhaps the next 25 years will bring another cultural shift in the dry direction. Until then, it looks like business will be good for REI.